Thursday, October 29, 2009

great shopping day...on foot!

Despite living in NYC, where mall brands and designers share walls and both are easily accessible to me, I find myself doing the bulk of our retail shopping online. The deals are better (especially with discount codes and online-only sales), and it's just easier then schlepping around town. Today, I set out to find pieces for our Halloween costume, a few workout items I'm needing, and a dress from Anthro that is now sold out in my size online.

My closest Anthro didn't have the dress in stock, but located my size at several other stores. The dress should be arriving within a week, via free shipping. The transaction was easy peasy, and the SA, super sweet. Yes, I did buy the dress full-price. But, it's come into my head for various potential outfits, and has been on the wishlist for over a month now. And it has yet to go on sale. So it goes, unfort...

While standing in the abnormally long early afternoon checkout line, I spotted the elusive Snakebite belt in brown. It looked like a return, and I snatched it up. It really is the perfect belt for cinching just about anything around your waist.
My Anthro never actually carried this belt, so to find one as a return was lucky. (Speaking of lucky, Roxy is running a great contest for Anthro-lovers. Run, don't walk, over to her site and enter!)

I then headed over to Old Navy, where I came away with 2 items. A pair of leggings with a foldover waist and super-flattering ruching along the hips (I needed leggings NOW for my spin classes...more on that later...), and a racerback 'moisture-wicking' tank for...get ready for it...$2.24!?! Marked down to $4.99 from $10, it showed up as $2.24 at checkout. Say whaaaaat? I love when that happens!!! The tank itself runs big, but is soft and lightweight. They appear to be on sale on the website, but I'm guessing you too can get a great deal in-store.
Finally ended up at Sports Authority (I braved the god-awful costumer service because I needed to augment my Halloween costume...more on that later). They were running 20% off certain Nike items, and snagged some plain racerback tanks.
The tanks had mesh panels in the chest and back, had a thin built-in bra, and fit surprisingly well. I usually double up my sports bras, but I don't need to with this top. Highly recommend!

Sometimes you just need to set out on foot to fulfill your shopping errands. There really is no substitute for touching the fabric, trying things on, and feeling that thrill that comes with a great deal.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

what I'm loving now: Kiehl's

Lately I have been loving Kiehl's products! The original store, which happens to be the flagship (store #0001 on the receipts) is just 5 blocks from our apartment, and I find myself there often. Our gym (Equinox) has also started carrying Kiehl's products in the locker rooms...allowing me to test products I wouldn't normally try out.

I know Kiehl's products can be expensive and hard to find in certain locations. But several of them are really great, and a nice indulgence every now and then. They are also SUPER generous with samples, which is refreshing. Here is a quick rundown of the products we are loving:

Creme de Corps body lotion
The cult classic. We first fell in love with the SPF-containing version on our honeymoon. It was perfect for soothing sun-kissed skin, and the smell is to-die-for. Whenever I feel like being transported back to vacation memories, I use this. I also slather this over my face after tough workouts (yes, really!). I've found that it's perfect this time of year, when my skin tends to get super dry and flaky. After a workout, my skin is flushed and pores are open...this sinks in nicely and provides a glowy look. I don't have it on for more than an hour or so (once I get home, I shower it off), and I'm sure it would wreak havoc if I tried to wear it all day, but it's a nice indulgence that feels lovely.

Scented Lip Balm - Coconut
This stuff smells fantastic...subtle and not in-your-face. The moisturization is great (not too heavy, but does not disappear like Rosebud Salve sometimes does), and it's not sticky at all. The applicator could be better (as in, there could be one), but other than that quip it's a great, everyday balm. I have one in every bag!

Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream
Your man will thank you for this. Husband was using standard shaving creams before he met me. Okay, he actually never even knew there was a world of high-end men's products before me. :) He LOVES this stuff. A little goes a long way and one tube lasts forever. It is moisturizing and provides great protection from the blade (although he complains that it is slow to rinse away unless using super hot water). I stocked up from Hautelook a while back for half price, but even at full price, this is really worth the investment (particularly if your man has to shave every day for work). Kiehl's also carries a version in a blue tube containing Camphor and Menthol, Husband found this a little drying and irritating.

Facial Fuel SPF 15
Husband walks to work every day, and frankly, he's not getting any younger. He had been using Vaseline body lotion on his face (shudders), before I purchased this product. It is lightweight, non-greasy, fairly soothing post-shave, and has sun protection. Haven't heard any complaints, so I assume this will be sticking around in the med cabinet.

Cuddly Coat Grooming Shampoo & Conditioning Rinse
Even our fur baby is pampered! Although he hates baths (he acts as if he is dying in the tub), we love the Kiehl's products for him. The shampoo cleans well and smells wonderful. It rinses away quickly and completely, and leaves his fur super soft and fluffy. We haven't tried the conditioner yet, since his fur hasn't been too long, but plan to this weekend.

Spray-n-Play Cleansing Spritz
All dog parents can thank me later for of the best concotions we've used. Since Griff hates baths, we don't give them often. To extend the time he can go before he gets a little too stinky, this spray has been a godsend. Just spray liberally, rub in it well (Griff seems to love this), and wipe with a towel. It wipes away cleanly, and leaves no residue. I have also used this to clean his paws after a walk in the rain, or his face after he eats.

Friday, October 23, 2009

review: Target suede (Ugg-look-alike) boots

Target Exhilaration Suede Boots
Retail: $24.99 for short, $29.99 for tall [Available in black, gray, chocolate, tan, chestnut]
Review: Nearly identical to UGGs. Comfortable. Run true to size, but if planning to wear barefoot, size down 1/2 size.
target suede boots

Once upon a time, I refused to put a pair of UGGs on my feet. You were supposed to wear it barefoot, and it made feet look super was a trend I could do without. Five years later, it seems that UGGs:winter::Havaianas:summer (my goodness, how dorky is that?) I bought myself a tall and short pair, and lived in them on casual days. As with any trend, high demand puts pressure on a company's ability to produce...UGG manufacturing was soon outsourced to China (I believe the Ultras are still made in New Zealand, though), and in my humble opinion, the quality took a nosedive. The once plus sheepskin interior felt rougher, and I heard stories of boots falling apart after just a season or two of wear. $150-$200 suddenly didn't seem worth it.

UGG look-alikes have been around nearly as long as UGGs themselves. The Target (Xhilaration brand) boots are possibly the spawn I have ever seen. Long story short, I needed a pair of easy on/off boots to wear to Pilates classes and for short puppy potty trips outside. I didn't want to worry about weatherproofing or dye rub-off from my pants. If they got nasty, I could toss them come spring. These fit the bill.

I dare you to find a substantial difference between UGGs (left) and the Target version (right)!
suede boot comparison

These are as comfortable as UGGs. I wouldn't wear either for long walks around the neighborhood, given the lack of substantial support. The interiors are mildly soft and cushy (may irritate those sensitive to synthetic materials). But they're perfect if you're on the go, or for a casual day.

To further convince you, I sat with both in hand and did a close side-by-side comparison. Both have a suede exterior, 'faux fur' interior, and rubber sole. Both have similar stitching and seaming. Both seem to run about a 1/2 size big, and only come in whole sizes. The Target sole is slightly thicker, with a slight texture, as compared to the UGG sole. The Target boot is also slightly heavier than the UGGs. Would you be able to spot or feel these diffs while wearing? Probably not. Saving you at least $125.

*Update: Just realized today that the UGG boots are slightly cushier on interior portion of the toebed (the part that cushions the top part of the foot. I suspect this would be replicated in the Target version by getting a size that fits perfectly without socks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

recipe review: nut butters

Once upon a time, there was nothing I loved more then peanut butter...on toast, fruit, in cookies, and on was a healthy way to get some extra protein and 'good fat' in my diet. After I swore off regular peanut butter, I set out to find the perfect natural one (Trader Joe's brand is pretty perfect, imo).

All of this changed once I starting following food blogs and discovered nut butters. Why had I never known about these??? The concept was so simple...there are other nuts in the world...why not other nut butters? Almond butter was the most widely used alternative, and my first one to try. Of course I loved it, but wow was it expensive! At nearly $7 for a jar, it cost twice as much as a jar of natural peanut butter. There had to be a better (read: cheaper) way.

We recently bought a food processor to handle some tasks that the regular ole' blender couldn't handle. Perfect time to make my own almond butter! I consulted Heather's recipe for nut butter, and went to work.

First, I spread some raw almonds (about a ziploc bag full) on parchment paper and popped them into the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, turning them once or twice. You'll know they're done when they get darker and the kitchen smells like roasted nuts.

Once the nuts cooled a bit (about 10 minutes), I threw them into the food processor and went to town.

It took about 10 minutes to achieve the consistency I was after! Halfway through, I tossed in a generous pinch of salt and a squeeze of honey. The result was super smooth, spreadable, and perfectly blended until the bottom of the jar - fantastic!

It tasted better than any store-bought version. We used it in everything from green monsters to oatmeal.

The next experiment was cashew butter. I used Goan cashew nuts, toasted for about 12 minutes at 350 degrees, and later added a pinch of salt and glob of honey into the mix.

It took about 15 minutes to achieve an acceptable consistency. The mixture kept balling up and never really got completely smooth. Most recipes I found included some additional oil, and I'm guessing this would have ensured a better result. It's still great on toast and in smoothies, but not nearly as spreadable as the almond butter.

I love the idea of substituting other nuts butters for the standard peanut butter. Almonds have a ton of Vitamin E and 'good fats.' Research has shown that almonds can reduce cholesterol and boost immunity. Cashews have similar benefits. If you own a food processor (or even a Magic Bullet), give homemade nut butter a try!

*Update: Thanks Amber for the kind words! I forgot to mention in the post: nuts (especially almonds and walnuts I think) are on the pricey side. I get my nuts in huge 5-lb. bags from the Indian grocery store for under $10. If this isn't an option, try and find them wholesale, or buy in bulk...if you can.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

review: Aqua Leather Jacket

Aqua Leather Bomber Jacket w/ Detachable Faux Fur Collar
Color: Black
Retail: $298
Review: Well-made with some great details. Great price for a good quality leather jacket. Runs small, size up!

One of my wishlist items was a new leather jacket. You may recall that I vowed to first see if I could rework leather jackets hanging in a closet at my parents' house. Well, once I looked into the price of making such changes to leather garments, I quickly decided that a new mid-range leather coat would be a better investment.

We've also officially entered fall here in NYC. Chilly-ish temps with some warmer, sunny days...wool is still too much, but thin blazers won't really cut it. A friend raved to me about the Aqua brand leather coats over at Bloomingdale's, saying that for the price, they were a good 'in-between seasons' option. Decent leather at under $300? I had to see for myself. The recent 20% Friends & Family discount made it even more worth the trip.

I wasn't too familiar with's Bloomies' in-house brand that falls within the Contemporary department. But what a nice surprise the leather jackets turned out to be! The leather is quite soft, yet thick. There are some nice details, such as seaming, pockets, etc etc. I saw one option with a removable hood (see below) that could be a close stand-in for Mike & Chris, yet without the $700+ pricepoint. The quality was as good or better. Sure, you could find decent leather at well under $300. But not in the form of super stylish bombers and motorcycle styles!

I settled on the motorcycle coat with the faux fur removable collar. I like the pocket details on the front, the seaming is quite flattering at the back, and the detachable collar gives some flexibility. As far as fit, I sized up from my usual size, which fit, but was a fairly tight squeeze (I had to inhale deeply to even zip it thoroughly over my chest). The sales associate informed me that Aqua is geared towards shoppers who desire a more youthful (read: more fitted) look. She recommended that I size up, but noted that the 'young people like you' are taking it tighter (to which I nearly hugged her as I laughingly informed her I was 8 months away from 30).

Rachel Zoe insists that you should buy leather jackets 'very fitted,' since they stretch with wear. However, I didn't really want to take a chance with this one...I wanted to wear it now with thin sweaters and scarves! If you prefer a fitted look, or don't plan to zip it much...I say take your true size. If you plan to wear sweaters (even thin ones) underneath, size up. The price is right for these, and I know I'll be wearing it for years to come.

Beware that they are selling out quite fast online and in-store. The jacket I purchased is available in black only in limited sizes. If you want to do a charge-send, call Bo Katyk (Coats Specialist) at the Soho Bloomingdales (212.729.5178). Possibly the nicest and most helpful high-end department store (is Bloomies still considered high-end?) SA I've ever met.

Below are the rest of the Aqua leather jacket options online:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PSA: Trixie & Peanut Sample Sale!

It's a mere 40 degrees outside, and our baby needs a coat! I was searching my usual online pup sources and saw that Trixie & Peanut is having a sample sale starting tomorrow! Although the reviews on this store are mixed, I've always had good experiences. The stuff is expensive, but no worse than any other decent pup boutique in town. Also, their selection of collars, leads, and harnesses are one of the best I've seen. I'm planning to go tomorrow!

Doggie Designer Sample Sale

When: Friday, October 16 (11am - 8pm), Saturday, October 17 (11am - 8pm), Sunday, October 18 (12noon - 5pm)
Where: Trixie + Peanut Pet Emporium, 23 East 20th Street (btwn Broadway & Park Ave. S)

*10/16 update: I stopped by after the gym (still sweating from spinning, ahem) and the place was a madhouse. Put on my sample sale gameface and dove into bin after bin. Decent selection that is going fast!

review: MAC Volcanic Ash Exfoliator

MAC Volcanic Ash Exfoliator
Retail: $19.50 for 3.4 oz.
Review: Did nothing but dry out and irritate my skin. Exfoliation is minimal at best. Expensive for the quality.

I'm a sucker for anything limited edition. I couldn't give a hoot for if something is available year-round. But products made under 'when-it's-gone-it's-gone' policies make me panic in the same way that a Gilt sale might. I must have it. Now.

I had read the hype around MAC's Volcanic Ash Exfoliator when it first came out. At the time, I was battling skin issues and didn't want to add another unknown to the mix, so I passed. When it was re-released, and the beauty blogosphere rejoiced, I headed to my nearest MAC counter and snatched it up. Differin makes regular exfoliation essential for me...St. Ives is my reliable standby product, while Boots micro-dermabrasion scrub is great for when I need a deeper and stronger scrub. But...BUT...what if the MAC scrub was better? And it sold out before I even got to try it? And I NEVER KNEW!?!?

Dramatic much? Yeah...and that's what I'd describe the hype as. This could possibly be the worst scrub I've ever used! The directions say to use a dime-sized amount all over the face and/or body every few days - applying to a damp face, working into skin for a minute or two, and gently rinsing with warm water. First off, the granules are sugar, which means that they melt away within 5 seconds of use. I need at least 20 seconds of scrubbing action to rid my skin of flakies and dullness...this didn't cut it. Secondly, the scrub began to burn my skin during use. It remained red in patched even after I moisturized. Finally, it thoroughly dried out my the point that it was tight and flaky all day long!

To be fair, I do like the squeeze bottle, and the fact that it turns from jet black to grey as you use it is pretty cool (it does stain so relegate this to in-shower use only). The scent is quite nice...a nice hit of lavender that I enjoyed...but I suspect that fragrance may be one of several skin irritants. This scrub might be a better option for combination or oily skin types...many MUA reviewers praised it's acne-fighting ability...sensitive or dry skin types should stay away. As far as being a 'scrub'...I'd beg to might be better served rubbing it into skin until the granules dissolve, and then leaving it on as a mask.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

review: Boscia Enlivening Amino-Age Eye Treatment

Retail: $38 for 0.5 oz.
Review: Doesn't irritate sensitive skin. Good moisturization. Seems to reduce puffiness with repeated use, but no difference seen on dark circles.

I had found my HG eye cream - a silky white lotion from Aura Science at Victoria's Secret. It cooled, it reduced puffiness, it brightened the eye, and never once irritated my skin. When I heard that VS was discontinuing the line, I searched through every bin in at least 10 different stores. I came up seemed that other shoppers shared my love for the cream as well. When my in-store efforts failed, I hit ebay, buying up as many sample sizes as I could.

These samples, and the rest of my stash, got me through 2008. 2009 brought a totally new skin care regimen (retinol), and I needed a new eye cream. I moved through Clinique, Chanel, Kiehls, drugstore brands...all of these caused major irritation around my eyes. Itchy, flaky, red, raw was horrible! The retinol had cleared my skin, but made it uber sensitive. I read so many reviews on MUA, and did some research on skin irritants...finally settling on Boscia's Enlivening Amino-AG Eye Treatment.

This Boscia cream lacks many common skin irritants - parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances and dyes, etc. The texture is similar to my beloved Aqua cream...silky and light...thicker than a gel, but thinner than a cream or heavy lotion. There is no discernible scent. The moisture level is exactly right...not too heavy and not too light. It claims to contain antioxidants and amino acids aimed at aging and reducing fine lines. I don't know about all that. Thanks to my parents' genes..fine lines are not yet an issue and dark circles are mild and rare. The cream does help reduce puffiness, which I am thankful for after every night of 2 or more glasses of wine. Best of all, it has never caused even the slightest irritation, through 2 months of nightly use.
0.5 oz. seems like a miniscule amount for a price of nearly $40. But, a little of this stuff goes a long way...especially if you only use it once a day. I wish the container was a pot style, rather than a pump, so I could ensure that every last drop was used (I know some poo poo the unsanitary nature of pots, but I wash my hands people!) Overall, it's saved the skin around my eyes, and I plan to continue purchasing! As always, I'd recommend purchasing from Sephora or a Boscia counter (if thsoe exist), to ensure hassle-free returns if necessary.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

retail rants

I knew this day was coming! We're vacationing and visiting family in Miami for the week, and headed to the air-conditioned mall on his past particularly hot and humid Monday. In New York, it's SUCH a process to head out for a day of window shopping...get your walking shoes, check the weather, consult the subway map, etc. In the 'burbs, when we're bored, we just hop in the car and can get an Auntie Annie's pretzel and mass retail fix in less than 15 minutes.

We headed into J Crew to see if the chambray Perfect shirt I had been lusting after was in stock. What did I see? Ruffles and huge embellishment everywhere! Outfits repeated in 5 color combinations throughout the store! Jenna's favorites! This is all fine and good in some ways...I found the store much more organized than in past seasons. However, the sale section was abysmal ($50 for a ruffle tee is no sale to me). I also found myself annoyed by the repeated outfit combinations. Sure. it makes it easy to envision pieces together, and thus, shoppers probably purchase more than one clothing item. But I have to wonder if it's stifling the creativity of J Crew shoppers? Hear me out here. It's a trend I've seen in the J Crew blogosphere as well. Outfits that are exact replicas (or very close approximations) to what appear in the catalogs. Purchases more motivated by Jenna's favorites than a personal true affinity for the pieces. And to be perfectly honest, I don't think the quality of clothing comes close to the prices J Crew thinks they can charge. Even if a blazer is lined with Italian silk and has buttons shipped from the far reaches of the Pacific...what motivates shoppers to spend close to $300 on said blazer? And don't even get me started on the atrocity that was the bejeweled puke green trench, priced at over nearly $800.

To be fair, there are many things about 'the new J Crew' that I love...the creative outfit combos (for INSPIRATION only), especially the artful layering. The bags, belts, and other leather accessories are great quality. And they do have a few stand-out pieces (like the Chimera jacket that is really beautiful in person). Further, it's not just J Crew that bugs me. I found the Gap totally uninspired, while Old Navy is good for nothing but basics. Abercrombie is too loud for me, but I imagine it's a more expensive version of the plaid and distressed jeans repeated at American Eagle. Express looked like the 80s vomited all over the store. Banana Republic was a snore. Even mid-range contemporary designer pieces at Bloomies and Saks bored me. Anthropologie is one of the few stores I keep coming back to. No forced outfit combinations, wearable pieces mixed with out-there can mix and match and accessorize and combine to your heart's content.

Maybe it's the recessionista in me. I really need to be wowed by a piece...or have it on my long-term wishlist to purchase it. And almost nothing will bring me to pay full retail for clothing. This fall/winter season, shoppers can expect less sales and more shallow discounts as retailers scale back inventory to avoid losing as much revenue as last year. Brands definitely played it safe as well...bringing back some trends and slightly tweaking others. The good news is that I can most definitely work with my current wardrobe, adding/deleting a few pieces here and there for an update. If I need the trend, I can always hit F21 for a quick fix. Once we leave Miami, it will sadly be time to switch out the closet for colder weather...perfect time to play with what I have, rediscover pieces I love, and rework or discard those I don't.

Monday, October 5, 2009